The United States and China are unquestionably the two superpowers of the 21st century. The US has been the unchallenged superpower of the world for several decades, and until recently was the largest economy on the planet in terms of GDP. But China is now seriously beginning to rival US hegemony, and diplomatic relations between the two nations have become increasingly tense in recent years.

United States vs. China: The Battle of Superpowers

This has been predicted for some time, and it is similarly estimated by some analysts that the two will eventually come to military blows, or at least rhetorical conflict. This has already occurred to some extent with the United States’ concern over the South China Sea situation, and with China a major ally of Russia, a natural rival and possibly even enemy of the United States, such wars of words and perspectives are likely to increase in future years.

United States vs China – military expenditure

So where do China and the United States stand militarily? Well, the first thing to know is that the United States spends far more money on its military than any other country on the planet. This has been the case for many years, even though the Obama administration has significantly reduced overt defense spending from the previous government.

This means that the $609 billion that the United States spent on its military in 2014 is by far the largest figure of any nation. However, China is by far the second largest spender on military worldwide, and there have been numerous double-digit increases in China’s military expenditure in recent years.

But the United States is still spends three times as much on military as the Chinese government, and the gulf between the two nations is perhaps better illustrated by spending per capita. The US spending per head of population in the nation is actually 12 times that of China, illustrating the true military might that the United States possesses.

United States vs China – military personnel

Where China is strong is with regard to sheer weight of numbers. The world’s most populous nation can draw on a massive population, and this is strongly reflected in the number of active military personnel in the East Asian nation. There are 2.33 million active military personnel in China, which compares to just 1.43 million active men and women in the United States’ armed forces. The US can claim a larger reserve than China, but it is clear that in sheer weight of troop numbers that the rapidly developing Chinese nation is superior.

United States vs China – tanks

China has also caught up the United States rapidly in terms of tanks. Whereas the United States would once upon a time have enjoyed a far superior tank provision to China, the East Asian country now lays claim to 6,540 battle tanks. This is almost 3 times the number active in the United States, and underlines that China is fully prepared for any land battle.

China has also significantly upgraded its artillery in recent years, and clearly outranks the United States in this department as well. But when it comes to air battles, there is no doubt that the United States is significantly superior.

United States vs China – helicopters

US investment in helicopters has ensured that the United States hugely outranks China in this department. The US military currently has access to 4,191 military helicopters, which is over eight times the number that China has at its disposal. But the superiority of the United States in the air is not so clear-cut with regard to aircraft.

United States vs China – air force

The United States’ air force is one of the most renowned on the planet, and there is no doubt that it has been A world leader in terms of technology. But after the recent investment in its military, China is beginning to significantly close the gap on the United States in this department. The US its still dominant in terms of attack helicopters, possessing nearly three times as many as China, but this is not the case with regard to aircraft.

The Chinese air force now outranks the United States in terms of sheer weight of numbers, with China having access to 2,239 military aircraft. This compares to just 1,410 in the United States, underlining that the air force capabilities of China are now comparable to any country on the planet. Of course, it is important to emphasize that sheer weight of numbers is not the only factor to take into consideration in order to understand which of the two nations has the greater provision, but it does give a significant indication that China can hold its own in this department.

United States vs China – navy

However, the United States Navy does remain incredibly well-stocked compared to the Chinese equivalent. In almost every class of military vessel, the United States is significantly superior, and China still evidently has some catching up to do in many departments. What can be said is that China has invested heavily in frigates and PCC vessles, and now comfortably outranks the United States in these departments.

But in the traditional maritime military areas of aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers, there really is no competition between China and the United States, and the traditional military power continues to rule the roost.

United States vs China – arms exports

One final area where the United States has rained supreme, and not without considerable and deserved controversy, is with regard to arms exports. This has been a vast revenue stream for the United States government in recent years, and figures regarding both arms exports and imports suggest that the United States remains well out ahead of China for the time being.

In 2014, US arms exports were equal to around $100 billion. The volume of US exports of major weapons rose by 23 percent between 2005–2009 and 2010–14. The United States’ share of the volume of international arms exports was 31 per cent in 2010–14, and no country on the planet can compare with this. China has made strides in this area, but its still outranked by the United States by over 900%.

In summary, China has clearly closed the gap on the mighty United States military, but there is no doubt whatsoever that the US remains the most powerful military force on the planet.